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Egypt Widens Crackdown With New Charges Against Prominent Academics And Activists

Human rights groups and activists say the new charges being leveled by authorities in Egypt are part of an increasingly repressive police state.

Posted on January 23, 2014, at 8:25 a.m. ET

Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

A man takes part in a protest in downtown Cairo against the crackdown on activists.

An internationally renowned Egyptian political scientist is the latest public figure to be criminally charged as part of a widening police crackdown in Egypt that has targeted activists, academics, and students.

Emad Shahin, a professor widely respected for his astute and balanced analysis of Egypt, has taught at Harvard, Notre Dame, and the American University at Cairo. Journalists and diplomats knew him as a trusted voice in Egypt, and often called on him for advice and analysis.

On Wednesday, however, Shahin was listed as a defendant in lengthy charges of espionage and conspiring with foreign organizations to undermine Egypt's national security. He was named among several dozens defendants, including ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi.

What began with the military ouster of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government six months ago has become a widening crackdown on any voices of dissent in Egypt. In a report released Thursday, Amnesty International wrote, "Egyptian authorities are using every resource at their disposal to quash dissent and trample on human rights."

"Across the board the Egyptian authorities have tightened the noose on freedom of expression and assembly. Repressive legislation has been introduced making it easier for the government to silence its critics and crack down on protests," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East, and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International. "With such measures in place, Egypt is headed firmly down the path toward further repression and confrontation."

In Cairo, several of Shahin's former students and colleagues said they were shocked by the charges brought against him. One wrote in a Facebook post, "These are sad days for Egypt." In a statement to the press, Shahin vehemently defended himself against the charges:

I categorically and emphatically deny all the charges, and I challenge the State Security Prosecutor to present real evidence to substantiate these fabricated charges. I am an academic and have been independent throughout my life. I am an advocate for democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and a fervent supporter of the main objectives of the January 25 Revolution in Egypt, namely freedom, dignity, and social justice." "I have been critical of the course of political events in Egypt since last summer and can only conclude that such criticism—entirely restricted to word and utterly unconnected to any organized group, faction, or party—is my true offense. Like many fellow Egyptians, I am supportive of peaceful mobilization in defense of democracy, freedom, equal rights, and inclusion. I will continue to advocate such values, exercising a right to protest that is enshrined in Egyptian law and, in recent years, deeply engrained in Egyptian practice.

Along with Shahin, political scientist and former lawmaker Amr Hamzawy was also charged with the crime of "insulting the judiciary" after he questioned a recent court ruling against several Western NGOs in Egypt by posting a tweet in Arabic that read:

"Verdict in case of foreign funding of [civil society] shocking, transparency lacking, facts undocumented & politicization evident."

Hamzawy posted several follow up tweets and told supporters, "I am paying the price of being a true liberal."

The charges against Hamzawy were filed just a day after Egypt adopted a new constitution, in a vote that several monitoring groups described as problematic. The new constitution gives the Egyptian military extended powers, including the right to try civilians in a military court. A new law that effectively bans public protests without the explicit consent of the government have also gone into effect, and several of Egypt's former revolutionaries have been arrested or gone into hiding.

Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, Ahmed Douma, and renowned blogger Alaa Abd el-Fatah — all prominent figures from Egypt's 2011 revolution — were handed three-year sentences for organizing unauthorized protests in November.

Alaa recently released a letter from prison, in which he details his incarceration:

The thought is scary, I am facing two felonies and it is clear that they have decided that we must be handed down sentences. It is clear that the revolution is in poor shape. We may be handed down sentences, in which case time stops for me and continues to go on for you for years, which means that Khaled grows up without me. This means that he will undergo many colds and will sleep away from my hugs for long.Or maybe I will be released after a month or two, or maybe I will be released upon completion of their wretched transition plan. It is up to their will and up to the time that is under their control.I am sorry for the depressing thoughts...You know that I hate the whole "You are free and imprisonment will not be able to break you" tone. Every time I am jailed, a piece of me breaks, just like every time someone else is imprisoned, a piece of us breaks. Just like when every martyr dies, we all bleed. It is true that his family and loved ones bleed more, but all of us bleed and all of us pay the price.
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